THE extension of targeted sanctions against political leaders and corporate bodies has become an annual ritual on Zimbabwe’s political calendar. The script to the drama has generally stayed the same. The EU cites human rights violations and the democratic deficit as the reason for keeping the punitive measures.
Zanu PF’s reaction has also been predictable. It is the soporific mantras of the need to defend sovereignty and that the sanctions are illegal and are hurting the economy.
But this week, the announcement by the EU that it had removed 35 individuals from the list is a significant amendment to the drama. The twist in the plot is however being viewed with great suspicion by President Robert Mugabe’s government.
The EU has excised from the list wives of senior military officers and those of senior government officials. Also excluded are sitting ministers, a traditional chief and MPs. Public Works deputy minister Aguy Georgias — an advocate of class action against the sanctions — has also been removed from the list. The EU in announcing the changes said “economic and social development have not been matched by equivalent progress on the political front”.
The bloc added: “Further reforms are necessary with regard to the rule of law, human rights and democracy, which are necessary in order to create an environment conducive to the holding of credible elections.”
In fact, the EU, despite the removal of the 35 names “has concluded that there has not yet been sufficient progress to justify a more substantial change of its policy towards Zimbabwe” hence the extension of the sanctions regime by another year. If sanctions were imposed to make a statement to Zimbabwe’s rulers that they must address the democratic deficit in the country, then the removal of the 35 from the list should be acknowledgement of progress on this front.
But that does not appear to be the case because the Zanu PF establishment has not necessarily reformed as evidenced by the escalation of violence and a clampdown on pro-democracy forces since the New Year. The EU says the remaining 163 people and 31 businesses on the sanctions list “are still considered to be linked to human rights’ abuses, the undermining of democracy or the abuse of the rule of law”.
What is mind-boggling at the moment are the criteria initially used to put people on the list have now been employed to remove the 35. There are individuals who have been removed from the list who clearly fit into the category of those “linked to human rights abuses, the undermining of democracy and the abuse of the rule of law”. One could surmise that there is method in their madness; to divide Zanu PF and court individuals to join the reform project. This carrot and stick diplomacy should signal the thawing of relations.
Whatever it is, the manoeuvre by the EU should make sense and achieve the purpose of re-engagement, and with it tangible political progress in this country. In the meantime Zanu PF has responded with the expected usual anger to the EU statement.
The party wants sanctions lifted altogether. A recent opinion poll has said 62% of respondents want the measures lifted. But that is not going to happen so long as the Zanu PF hardliners persist with their campaign of violence seen in the townships over the past few weeks. It is essential that such violations of the GPA are reported so Zanu PF doesn’t get away with its facile claim that sanctions are somebody else’s responsibility.